The State for Agriculture, Nature and Food: Wageningen’s achievement in data management

Suppose you are a policy advisor, a member of parliament or a researcher looking for reliable information about the agro-food domain. For example, you would like to know about the ammonia emissions from the different livestock farming systems. In order to meet this kind of need, good data management is paramount.

Wageningen University & Research has invested heavily in recent years to be able to meet the need for domain information faster and better and to manage this available data from various sources in one central location: the data warehouse. Knowledge about data that was previously stored decentralized can now be found directly with that data; a crucial condition for combining different data sources. The State for Agriculture, Nature and Food is the latest application based on this. With a few clicks, you as a user select the relevant data sets and graphs, and you are directed to other places where information on this topic can be found.

Public and WUR data

The data warehouse is full of information on everything related to agriculture, food and nature. Some of the data is collected or produced by Wageningen University & Research itself. It may also concern data from third parties, regardless of whether they are public or not. “Experts in the green domain with an understanding of data management have described their knowledge of all this data,” says Mark Dolman, product owner data management at Wageningen Economic Research.

Experts in the green domain with knowledge of data management have described their knowledge of all that data. Now that we store this information, we can make the right combinations with other sources and add valuable validation rules.

Mark Dolman, product owner data management

“This ‘metadata’ makes it possible to combine data sets, depending on the indicators you are looking for as a user. A fact in any data source about ’30 tonnes of pressed pulp’ only makes sense if you know that it is dried beet pressed pulp from a particular company in a particular year. Some of that information is in the source, but this kind of important information is often not explicitly stated. This information is essential to validate data and draw the right conclusions. For example, it makes a big difference to your environmental impact whether it is dried or moist, and whether the pulp comes from beets or other crops. Because we now store that information, we can make the right combinations with other sources and add valuable validation rules.”

Described user-friendly

Because the data is described in a very user-friendly way, according to Dolman, you don’t need to be an expert to search the data warehouse: “All data can be translated into indicators and figures like those found on the State of Agriculture, Nature and Food: from production and consumption data for mineral cycles, antibiotic use and greenhouse gas emissions. On the website you can see exactly which parts you can choose. Because all data sources are clearly described, you as a user can put together a tailored product, such as the State of Agriculture, Nature and Food. You can then build on that, for example by adding new selections of data or adding new calculations.”

Huge time savings

This saves a huge amount of time, says Dolman: “On average, researchers spend 60% of their time collecting data before they can even do anything with it. Before you can interpret data, you must first harmonize, validate, clean and aggregate it. All these steps are already completed in the data warehouse. It is pure profit for the user. The researcher can spend more time on analyses, which also benefits politicians and other partners. In addition, studies can always be reproduced.”

Researchers spend an average of 60% of their time collecting data before they can even do anything with it. Before you can interpret data, you must first harmonize, validate, clean and aggregate it. All these steps are already completed in the data warehouse.

Mark Dolman, product owner data management

Worry-free from A to Z

The data warehouse thus improves access to information as well as the information itself. Dolman: “We relieve the user in all aspects that are necessary for good data handling. Users have more and faster insight on the basis of valid, harmonized and knowledge-enriched data. At the State for Agriculture, Nature and Food, it is primarily about visualizing data, but that is the tip of the iceberg. Precisely the preliminary, knowledge-heavy steps are individually invaluable. This applies not only to us as a research institute, but also to our partners and customers.”

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